Notre-Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday in a massive blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, one of France’s most visited sites.
Flames that began in the early evening burst quickly through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, followed by the entire roof.
A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area.
Firefighters cleared the area around the cathedral, which marks the very centre of Paris.
“Everything is collapsing,” a police officer near the scene said as the cathedral continued to burn.
“Basically the whole rooftop is gone. I see no hope for the building,” said witness Jacek Poltorak, watching the fire from a fifth-floor balcony two blocks from the southern facade of the cathedral.
It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused the fire. France 2 television reported that police were treating the incident as an accident.
The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century and is famous for featuring in Victor Hugo’s classic novel the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, attracts millions of tourists every year.
“A terrible fire is underway at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron canceled his planned speech to the nation in light of the “terrible fire” underway at Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral, said an official at the president’s Elysee office.
“Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
A major operation was under way, the fire department said, while a city hall spokesman said on Twitter that the area was being cleared.
Notre-Dame was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding, while bronze statues were removed last week for works.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed horror on Monday at the fire engulfing the historic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The Paris Prosecutor’s Office said it has started an inquiry into the fire.
This story originally appeared on CBC